It’s the difference between failure and success.
The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you run a startup with a full-time job?” is written by Dani Fankhauser, cofounder of ReadThisNext.
If you’re asking how to run a startup while you have a full-time job, it’s probably because it’s your only option. But I believe that’s a good thing.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, she warns aspiring novelists to keep their day jobs for as long as they possibly can. She did—after selling three books she was still getting a paycheck—and it wasn’t until the runaway success of Eat, Pray, Love that she considered letting her art be her full-time gig, too.
Having a job while working on your startup is the difference between failure and success. If I had taken investment, or had tried to live off of savings, I would’ve failed by now. But as long as I’m self-funding, I can keep doing small pivots until I find my optimal product-market fit, and I get closer every day.
Embrace the structure
One of the best seasons of my life was when I was unemployed. I was anxious, of course, so I couldn’t enjoy it properly, but one thing I loved was having the entire day at my disposal and being able to take a break from job applications to go for a run or do laundry while I was working on freelance writing. But, eventually your body gets used to the space and you grow accustomed to taking your time to do simple tasks. With a full-time job, however, you have to finish sending that email before you head to work, or write that blog post in between the networking event and getting to bed at a reasonable time. If it doesn’t get done in the available time window, it won’t get done.
I’ve learned to be careful about balancing meetings and events with actual work time. I exercise in the morning, and use my after-work chunk of time for networking drinks or attending events, keeping a few nights open for solo work. That way there’s no space for excuses and I’m more likely to follow through on goals.
Accomplish one thing every day
A few years ago, a friend invited me over for dinner while she was planning her wedding. She made a healthy salad and opened a bottle of wine, and told me that since she was planning her own wedding, she needed to do one project each day. So that night I helped her glue wine corks onto a huge wooden letter “B,” which would become one of the wedding decorations.
This turned out to be a brilliant strategy. No matter what my day has in store, there’s always something on my never-ending list of tasks that I can check off. Some days I build a new feature to my web app. Other days I send a cold email asking for advice. But every day, I do at least one thing that moves my startup forward.
Let success beget success
Years ago, I interviewed a college athlete for a magazine feature, and something she said stuck with me: When you succeed in one area of life, it drives success in another, and also makes failure a little easier to bear.
If my startup looks like it’s about to implode (sometimes it does), but I performed well at work that day and brought value to my colleagues, I feel safe, strong, and it keeps me going. The creative breakthroughs in my startup feed back to my day job. Success begets success.
Choose the right full-time job
I left a management position for a contract role with less responsibility. My current full-time job pays less, but often doesn’t require more than 40 hours each week—which is rare for any job. There are pros and cons to both, but taking the right job for my startup allowed me to prioritize. Sometimes that means taking a job where you’ll develop new skills that can be used at your startup, or a job where you’ll be interacting with people who are potential users or customers. When you have to be spending a good part of your week at a job, think about how you can use it to your benefit. The synergy will go both ways.
Dani Fankhauser is a journalist living in San Francisco, and cofounder of ReadThisNext, a social app for bibliophiles.